ST. PETERSBURG — Simona de Silvestro has accomplished a lot at a young age. In her 2010 IndyCar rookie campaign, she was Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year, led four laps in her series debut, and had two top-10 finishes for a new, one-car team.
Not bad at 21.
Even better for an auto racer hailing from a country that doesn't allow auto racing.
De Silvestro, now 22, is from Switzerland, where auto racing has been banned for more than 50 years. After a tragic accident at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1955 in which 80 spectators were killed, several European countries banned the sport, but relented shortly thereafter when safety improvements were made.
Switzerland, with the exception of one go-cart track, is still waiting — or as de Silvestro said Thursday, "Just Switzerland is still sleeping.
"It's pretty weird because we have a couple of drivers that are pretty good," said de Silvestro, who came through the youth ranks with current Formula One driver Sebastien Buemi.
"Actually Switzerland is pretty small so you get out of it pretty quickly," she adds with a laugh. "I had a track two hours away from where I lived, in France, so on the weekends my dad would take me to go-cart there. Without them I wouldn't be here because they gave me the opportunity for 10 years in go-carts."
She has hope that things will change back home.
"(There are people) trying to build a racetrack," she said. "It's just that politically it's not really a priority right now. But I think if me or Sebastien show that we're pretty competitive then maybe it's going to help.
"I really hope we get a racetrack one time in Switzerland."
After spending time in the Formula Renault series in Italy, de Silvestro made her way to America, where there were differences in the circuits (hello, ovals) and in attitudes.
"What's nice here in the U.S. is that everybody kind of talks to each other (among) the drivers," said de Silvestro, who starts her second season with HVM Racing on Sunday in St. Petersburg. "In Europe everybody doesn't talk to anybody, even in the lower series. Even in go-carts. Go-carting in Europe is like Formula One. For most European drivers that's kind of a shock when you come to the U.S. because other drivers are talking to you. In IndyCar everybody has been pretty helpful. … (Last year) I could go to Dario (Franchitti) and Will (Power) and Scott (Dixon) and ask questions and they were really open."
Though ovals were new to her, she ran to the end at the Indy 500, finishing 14th. But her best results came on road courses. That's no surprise considering her background on similar courses.
She raced well in St. Petersburg last year, running in the top five for part of the race and still in the top 10 late, until a spin after contact with Graham Rahal relegated her to a 16th-place finish.
"I really enjoy street courses because as a driver you can really find within yourself those last couple of tenths (of a second)," she said. "The track layout here is great, it's a lot of fun. Pretty much every lap you're out here you're having a blast. I think it suits me. Last year we proved we were all right, and I hope this year we can repeat that and finish up front.
"The cool thing about St. Pete is that it's one of those street courses where you can pass."
And though she says, "F1 has always been my dream," she says she's happy to be in IndyCar, and in America.
"Not many drivers have this chance to do this," she said. "Right now I'm focused here."
Jim Tomlin can be reached at [email protected]